Nova’s vision comes into focus as he watches droplets of blood dot the grey canvas of the wrestling mat in a linear pattern, like the flight path of a jumbo jetliner traveling toward the end of the world.
The waves of heat are overwhelming.
Nova’s gloved hands scoop away glops of blood from the edges of his eyes and he rises to his feet, wide eyes taking in the scene around him. Flames envelope the ring, dancing high into the air around all four corners.
Bruce “Violence Jack” Shanahan stands directly across the ring, a sadistic smile spread over his face. Between the movements of the flames, Nova can discern rows of hooded figures surrounding the ring, unmoving, hands clasped across their stomachs.
Violence Jack positions himself to advance, and lunges off his backfoot. Nova braces for impact…
…and Shanahan stops short, instead clutching at the Starchild’s left wrist…and thrusting it triumphantly into the air.
It’s all Nova can do to stay upright and watch through the flames as row by row, the hooded figures kneel. He almost doubles over as Violence Jack shoves something into his stomach. Nova looks down to see his right arm cradling the Universal Title.
For lack of a more rational option, the Risen Star lifts the Universal Title into the air and stares in horror as the rows of hooded figures raise their fists in return. Violence Jack beams like a proud father as the flames around them turn blue.
Friday, October 28, 2022
MGM Grand Hotel
Blue flames shift and twist in the aquamarine eyes of the Risen Star as he stares at himself in the mirror.
He turns his head to meet the gaze of Lindsay Troy, who is meticulously tending to the tie portion of Nova’s suit.
“You okay?” she asks, arching an eyebrow. “You look great, Caes. The ‘Starry Night’ tie is a killer, always has been. Just gotta tie it right.”
“I’m okay,” Nova replies with a soft nod. “Thanks, Lindz.”
The Queen of the RIng pauses for a moment and locks eyes with her friend.
“Really…thank you,” Nova affirms, meeting her gaze. “Let’s do this.”
Later that day
Clark County Probation & Parole Office, Las Vegas
Wade Elliott pulls a rental Honda Fit into a space in the parking lot. Three of the four doors open. Elliott grunts as he attempts to extract himself. Lindsay Troy winces as she maneuvers around and plants feet on the pavement. Nova stumbles out from the backseat, audibly gasping.
“A Honda Fit?” Troy asks, rubbing her neck, “Wade, we’re all at least 6’3”!”
“Seriously, bro,” Nova nods as he rotates his right arm.
Elliott turns and puts his hands on his hips. “Well ya didn’t give me a ton of advance notice and this is what they had in stock, it’s got four wheels and goes faster’n we can walk or run, so I’d appreciate some ‘Hey, Wade, good going on securing the vehicle’ vibes right about now if’n ya don’t mind.”
“Thanks, Wade,” Nova offers.
“Thanks, Wade,” Troy echoes.
“Yer quite welcome,” Elliott replies with a grin.
As they walk up to its entrance, Troy stops first and gestures for Nova and Elliott to hang back. In front of the entrance, Bruce Shanahan stands alongside a nameless MESSIAH ward, and the probation officer who originally screened Nova for “treatment.”
Shanahan steps forward, arms outstretched.
“Welcome, to the next phase of your evolution, Starchild,” he says with a wide grin. “A clever game you’ve tried to play with fate, but today that all ends, and you are embraced by the loving arms of MESSIAH.”
Elliott snarls and steps forward to Troy’s left as Nova flanks to the right, his eyes darting between Violence Jack’s minions. Troy takes another step forward, stretching her impressive wingspan to hold her boys in abeyance.
“Need I remind everyone,” she barks, “this isn’t the Grand, okay? We are outside a government building, and if we all start laying hands…”
She darts a glance at Elliott. “…we ALL get carted away in cuffs.”
The Blue Collar Brawler advances another step.
“I’m doin’ a cost-benefit analysis,” Elliott growls, “and thinkin’ cuffs ain’t the end’a the world.”
The Queen of the RIng whips her head around, her curls slicing the air.
“I said back the fuck up,” she hisses, “are you serious right now? We have fucking court, Wade. For him.”
She gives a quick nod towards Nova, whose shoulders have already sunk as he steps back.
“Get it together,” Troy warns before turning back to Shanahan and his crew. Wade holds up his hands and steps back.
Bruce steps forward, grin still plastered across his pale visage. “All roads lead to MESSIAH, Nova. All roads lead to treatment. Whether this gaggle of state-sponsored buffoons determines you to be legally incompetent or not…”
He steps forward, and his minions do as well, the probation officer’s black eyes seeming to consume the available sunlight.
“…you will come home.”
Lindsay Troy also takes a step forward. “I guess we’ll see about that. Come on, Caes. Wade.”
She gestures for Nova and Elliott to follow her inside. Shanahan’s MESSIAH ward holds the door in mocking fashion, and Violence Jack’s crew follows them in.
Friday, October 21, 2022
MGM Grand Hotel
“Lindz, I am so FUCKED!”
Nova paces back and forth on the balcony of his hotel suite, rapid-firing drags of his cigarette. In the twilight of the evening, his face is illuminated in bursts of green light by the flashes of his ankle bracelet.
“Caes, calm down,” Troy’s voice comes through Nova’s cellphone, “what did your attorney say?”
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “She said if the parole board finds me incompetent, they can issue a court order placing me in the custody of Nevada’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health and requiring me to engage with a treatment program or face involuntary hospitalization.”
“Okay…so you need to engage with a treatment program, then.”
“Treatment, Lindz!” Nova responds, “all roads lead to MESSIAH. They’re everywhere. If I’m still mandated to engage in a program, Shanahan will find me, whether I’m sitting in a clinician’s office or strapped to a bed on the psych ward.”
He takes a long drag, his eyes staring out for the millionth time at the glorious night-light of downtown Las Vegas.
“I may have really fucked myself this time.”
There’s a long pause on the other end of the phone.
“Caes…there’s no unringing the bell here. We have to see this through. We bank on whatever the hell Johnny told the forensic psychiatrist and hope for daylight on the other end of the tunnel.”
“We see it through.”
Nova nods, the somber frown on his face clear in bursts of green blinking light.
“We see it through.”
Friday, October 28, 2022
Clark County Probation & Parole Office, Las Vegas
Inside the parole board’s large conference room, Nova is seated at a table with his attorney. They face an elevated platform where the five members of the parole board are seated collectively at two tables. Directly behind Nova’s table, Troy and Elliott are seated in the first of several rows of wooden benches. Violence Jack, his MESSIAH ward, and the probation officer are gathered in the back of the conference room looking on.
Seated in the witness stand to the right of the parole board is the forensic psychiatrist tasked with evaluating Nova.
Nova’s defense attorney shuffles some notes on the table in front of her and looks up at the witness.
“Doctor, were you tasked with performing an evaluation in this matter?”
“Yes,” the psychiatrist responds, awkwardly leaning into the microphone.
“What was the purpose of the evaluation?”
“To render an opinion as to whether Mr. Vega is legally competent to participate in his parole revocation proceedings,” she responds.
“Were you able to reach a conclusion as to that question?” the defense attorney asks.
“I was,” the psychiatrist nods.
“And what conclusion did you reach?”
“I concluded that Mr. Vega is not legally competent to continue in these proceedings,” the psychiatrist replies.
In the back of the room, Violence Jack nods with a sneer. A toothy grin spreads over the face of the probation officer next to him.
“And why did you reach that conclusion?” the defense attorney asks.
Nova looks back over his shoulder at Troy.
Monday, October 24, 2022
MGM Grand Hotel
Nova, Troy, and Elliott are seated around the table in the kitchenette of Nova’s hotel suite. Nova has a large tan envelope in front of him. He stares at it, then his eyes shift nervously from Troy to Wade.
“Okay…,” he starts.
“Let’s see what they said,” Troy says.
Wade offers a firm nod.
Nova opens the envelope and slides out the evaluation report.
“Fuck it, let’s skip to the end,” he says, flipping pages.
He gets to the final page and pauses.
“Well?” Troy asks, “what do they say?”
Nova is silent, eyes fixed on the document…then he begins laughing. Hard.
He slides the evaluation report over to Troy and Wade. Their eyes scan the page.
“Holy shit,” Troy gasps, a broad grin stretching over her face.
“Goddamn,” Wade echoes, his eyes widening.
Between fits of laughter, Nova wipes tears from his eyes and gasps for breath.
“Fuckin’ Johnny, man…”
Garbage Bag Johnny (as Nova – let’s call him GBJ-Nova) sits across the table from a team of forensic psychiatrists in an otherwise empty room.
“Mr. Vega, the next part of the evaluation deals with your injury history,” the lead evaluator begins, looking up from her scribblings on her legal pad. “Have you ever experienced any kind of significant head trauma?”
GBJ-Nova leans forward, clasping his hands together and cocking an eyebrow.
“Doctor…how much time do you have?”
An hour later, the lead evaluator removes a cloth napkin from her purse and dabs the sweat on her forehead as GBJ-Nova continues.
“And then…my girlfriend,” he starts before pausing, choking up briefly, “I mean ‘ex-girlfriend,’ I’m sorry…”
He motions to the lead evaluator’s cloth napkin. “Can I see that?”
Reluctantly she hands it over and GBJ-Nova dabs his eyes. He tries to hand it back, she vigorously shakes her head ‘no,’ and he drops it on the table.
“And then,” he continues, “my ex-girlfriend Muriel said, ‘Have you ever heard of face-sitting?’”
GBJ-Nova spins backwards out of his chair and turns to face the team of experts, pointing at his temples. “At the moment I heard a crack and my eardrums exploded, I did think to myself, ‘Maybe I should’ve just said ‘yes’ and we could’ve moved on to the rodent-play…but then the euphoria hit, and I totally get it, that was brought on by a combination of oxygen deprivation and the skull fractures, but that didn’t make it any less…perfect.”
GBJ-Nova stares at the team with a wide grin and arms outstretched, waiting for a response. The lead evaluator’s jaw hangs open in wordless horror as she drops her pen.
Back in the parole hearing…
“Mr. Vega is not competent because of the effects of a traumatic brain injury,” the psychiatrist explains.
Nova’s eyes remain locked on Troy’s. He smiles, and she gives him a wink.
“What is significant about a traumatic brain injury as the source of Mr. Vega’s competency issue?” the defense attorney asks.
The psychiatrist turns to the board as she leans towards the microphone. “There is no mental health treatment plan that can be developed for someone whose competency issues stem from a traumatic brain injury.”
The sneer fades from Violence Jack’s face and his eyes begin darting around the room.
“It’s not like a mental health disorder in the vein of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which can hopefully be managed through a combination of medication and counseling,” the psychiatrist continues. “Mr. Vega’s condition is static, not dynamic – it’s not going to change.”
“Is there anything further that can be done, doctor?” the defense attorney asks.
“I’m afraid not,” the psychiatrist responds soberly.
“No further questions,” the defense attorney concludes with a nod to the board.
The board’s chairperson turns to a large computer screen, where a prosecutor appears via Webex. “Does the State have any questions for this witness?”
“No thank you,” the prosecutor responds.
Violence Jack takes a step forward, his mouth agape.
“Well,” the chairperson says with a shrug, “based on the witness’s testimony and the contents of the report admitted into evidence, the board cannot but conclude that Mr. Vega is not competent to continue with these proceedings as the result of a traumatic brain injury, and that there are no additional services available to treat his condition at this time. What is the State’s intent with respect to this case?”
“The State is dismissing this case,” the prosecutor responds.
“No…,” Shanahan whispers.
“The case is dismissed,” the chairperson confirms, looking up at Nova. “Mr. Vega, you are released. We wish you well. That will conclude our proceedings today.”
Violence Jack lunges over the barrier between the observers’ benches and counsel table, colliding with Nova. They fall back on the table, papers flying in every direction as the defense attorney dives away. Shanahan wraps his hands around Nova’s throat, his eyes wide and teeth bared, but he is quickly ripped away by two sheriffs who grab hold of his arms. He looks quickly to his left and right. Troy and Elliott are on their feet.
There was a time in which he would have painted the walls of this pathetic chamber with the blood of these pigs who dare to insult him by stepping into his business.
But that time has passed, and his body, once the ultimate vehicle for translating the wishes of a higher power into earthly destruction, is broken.
Shanahan’s shoulders sag, and after a moment he shrugs away from the sheriffs and takes a step back.
“This is not over, Starchild,” he growls, jabbing a finger at Nova.
With a final snarl, Violence Jack turns and marches out of the conference room, his lackeys in tow. Troy throws her arms around Nova, and they embrace for several moments before she lets go, leaving a hand on his shoulder.
“See you back at the ranch,” she says with a grin, turning to exit.
Nova and Wade are almost to the front security entrance of the building when a voice stops them.
“HEY! Hold up!”
Nova instinctively tenses up, the predictable result of more than half a decade in the custody of the government. He turns to see a sheriff approaching them.
“We need that back,” the sheriff says, pointing to Nova’s ankle with a grin. “Those things are expensive, y’know.”
Nova stares down at his ankle bracelet, at a loss for words. “Oh…um…yeah, of course.”
The sheriff reaches down and powers off the unit, the blinking green light fading to black. He unfastens the strap and removes the unit before giving the Risen Star a nod and walking away.
“Man,” Wade grunts, “let’s get th’fuck out’a here.”
Nova nods and they turn to the exit.
Outside the probation and parole building, Elliott turns to Nova. “I’ll get the car ‘n pick ya up here.”
He leaves, and Nova lights a cigarette, taking a long drag.
Turning his eyes back to the building, Nova sees Ariel standing in front of the entrance, holding a young girl in her arms. His breath catches in his throat. Ariel waves to him, then whispers something to the girl in her arms, who also raises a tiny hand to wave.
Nova waves back as Elliott pulls the car around. Ariel smiles and gestures with a “shoo”-ing motion. Nova kisses his fingertips and waves one more time before turning and getting into the passenger seat of the car, welcomed by the sounds of “Torn and Frayed” by the Rolling Stones blasting from the speakers.
“He ain’t tied down to no home town…yeah, and he thought he was wreckless…”
“Back to th’ Grand?” Wade asks.
Nova shakes his head. “Let’s drive around for a while.”
He leans his chair back, taking a drag of his cigarette.
“Where d’ya wanna go?” Wade asks.
Nova slides his seat all the way and rests his ankles up on the dashboard, grinning broadly as he closes his eyes and takes another drag.
Wade nods and they pull out of the parking lot, the music floating out of the car’s open windows.
“And his coat is torn and frayed…it’s seen much better days…just as long as the guitar plays…just as long as the guitar plays…just as long as the guitar play…just as long as the guitar plays…”
That night at the hotel…
Nova sits at the edge of a lounge chair on the balcony of his hotel suite, smoking a cigarette and staring out at the stars.
In the background behind the sliding glass doors, Wade Elliott and Dametreyus are passed out on couches in front of the TV. Open bottles dot every available landscape, lingering evidence of the celebration of Nova’s freedom.
But the party’s over now.
The Risen Star takes a drag.
“I guess it falls to me to put a stop to your bullshit. I didn’t ask for this.”
He pauses. “Really, when I think about it, I didn’t ask for any of this. I was effectively sprung from a jail cell by two ambitious idiots who thought they’d ride my coattails to organizational glory.”
He takes a drag. “I wasn’t who they thought I was. Billed as a legend from PRIME’s Golden Era, I was thrust out onto the main stage after four years in a box and held out as the standard to which all these newcomers should aspire. I didn’t ask for the hype, and I was the last person surprised when I didn’t meet the moment.”
The Starchild grins and points a finger into the camera.
“That was you, dawg. Pulling the tights was cute, I gotta say. You spring-boarded off a win over me all the way to the top, where you banged your head against the glass ceiling of your own limitations over and over again until you finally invented a way to be king that didn’t involve actually taking someone else’s crown.”
He shrugs. “Not that it was a bloodless coup. What you did and went through at UltraViolence, that was fucked up. You’re a tough motherfucker, I have to give you that.”
“But it feels different this time…doesn’t it?”
Nova nods. “Yeah, it does. And it’s time for this whole Reactive Attachment Disorder ‘threaten to leave and make a mess so someone reminds me that they actually care’ bit to be over – or at least to untangle the Universal Title from it. You can be a child and stomp around, yelling for everyone’s attention, but you don’t need to drag the whole company along with you.”
He puts out his cigarette. “See, I think underneath it all, you know this isn’t really for you. I think you’re scared that while you’ve cheated and schemed and plotted your way into this place where you get to be a king in captivity, deprived even of the thrill of hoisting your belt overhead for the world to see…you don’t belong here. And it doesn’t feel right.”
Nova pauses, looking away from the camera out at the desert horizon.
“If you’re worried at all that your chapter of PRIME’s history won’t be referenced by those who value revisiting the past…I think those concerns are well-founded. After we’re all gone, when people talk about PRIME, what it was, what it meant, they’ll talk about Tony Rolo and Ignatius Lisieux. They’ll talk about Killean, Tchu, me, Lindz, Jason…they’ll talk about Brandon leading the company back after a decade of darkness to the top of the wrestling world.”
“I don’t think they’ll spend a lot of time on the ‘interim commissioner’ of Universal Champions who served as a placeholder while we searched for another adult who could inbound the ball.”
Nova holds out his arms. “Not saying I’m an adult, but at least I’m off supervision!”
“You wanna take the Universal Title that we all fought, and sacrificed, and bled for, and make off somewhere to mock it…to degrade it?”
The Risen Star shakes his head again. “Over my dead body. And you wanna brag about how you’re some ‘cockroach,’ some ‘survivor’? Motherfucker, hold my beer. If you even think you’re stepping out with that belt, you will have to feed me to that fat fucking loser of a stablemate of yours, have him deposit me in your hotel bathroom, then work over my remains with an immersion blender (we call that a ‘Jail Cell Kitchen-Aid’) in order to do it.”
Nova lights another cigarette.
“No, Cancer…it’s time for this to be over. I’ll see you at ReVival 18.”
He takes a drag, smiles, and slides on the T-Shades he swiped from the skybox at ReV 17.
“It should be pretty COOL.”